Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Your letters...

Draconian decision

Sir, — The decision by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick to block South Oxfordshire District Council from taking action on its draft local plan is draconian, anti-democratic and flies in the face of localism.

Residents and environmental groups across the district have expressed concern over plans for 28,000 new homes in the district, four times what the Office for National Statistics indicates are required and double what the Government’s own figures demand.

They are worried about the draft local plan’s release of sensitive green belt sites and its insufficient recognition of the climate and ecological emergency.

After three months of investigation, the council’s cabinet last week unanimously recommended withdrawing the draft local plan 2034 from inspection and immediately start work on a fresh plan.

The council was prevented from discussing or voting on this recommendation after the Secretary of State intervened.

This also meant that 35 members of the public, many of whom had travelled long distances to speak at the meeting, were silenced.

It is a sad irony that such a measure should be taken in this, the very home of Government’s champion on localism, John Howell MP.

Critics of the cabinet’s recommendation refer to the risk of exposing communities to speculative development but the current planning regulations are responsible for speculation.

Councils have the power to grant planning permission but no tools to compel developers to build.

As a member of the Government, Mr Howell has had the power to change this but has failed to do so.

He argues that the district council is imperilling essential infrastructure funding but if South Oxfordshire lacks proper infrastructure, the blame lies squarely at the feet of Mr Howell’s own government and of Oxfordshire County Council, which for years have failed to invest properly in the needs of the district, all the while insisting that the district council builds ever more housing.

The pathway is open: government could unilaterally withdraw its egregious and unnecessary housebuilding demands.

It could acknowledge the chronic and ongoing lack of investment in infrastructure across Oxfordshire and it could immediately release funds for the upgrade of Oxfordshire’s transport network.

The Government’s vision for a South Oxfordshire sheathed in concrete and blighted by traffic and un-needed homes is an affront to the wishes of local residents and flies in the face of the climate and ecological emergency.

We Greens are proud to stand up for residents’ concerns about over-development and will continue to strive for a greener, fairer and more representative South Oxfordshire. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Jo Robb

South Oxfordshire District Council, Shepherds Green

Numbers don’t add up

Sir, — The recently published annual report from South Oxfordshire District Council covering the year to March 31 gives a simple explanation as to why the new administration’s cabinet recommended the local plan 2034 be scrapped.

The introduction to the report includes the projection by the Office for National Statistics of a population increase in South Oxfordshire by 2030 of five per cent to 147,200, an increase of 7,400 people on the 2017 total.

The emerging local plan proposes that at least 28,465 new homes be built between 2011 and 2034. Take away the 3,397 homes completed between 2011 and 2017 and this gives a grand total of 24,508 new homes to meet an increase of 7,400 people.

That’s a very generous 3.3 houses for every man, woman and child.

It is hardly surprising the new council believes the plan should be reconsidered as clearly something does not add up. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Peter Dragonetti

South Oxfordshire District Council, Goring Heath

We mustn’t lose funding

Sir, — During the years the Conservatives were in charge of South Oxfordshire District Council we were very mindful of the need to protect the district from unwanted housing development.

We know that none of us would choose to have a large building project close to our home but we also know that even worse than that is a large building project built close to our home in an uncoordinated way (so called “speculative” building) and without the infrastructure to make it work.

In recent years, without an adopted local plan defining our vision for the district, it became increasingly difficult to defend the district against precisely those sorts of developments because evidence indicated we had a need for homes here.

Time and again we saw speculative development being forced upon us on appeal.

The local plan we submitted to the Government for inspection in March aimed to create communities with affordable homes, schools, health centres and varied workplaces, together with the infrastructure — roads, cycle routes, pedestrian paths and better rail connections — to make them good, healthy places to live.

Working with colleagues at Oxfordshire County Council and our neighbouring district councils, we secured unprecedented government funding (£500million) to help us put it in to practice.

The Liberal Democrat/Green alliance that now runs the district council has tried to abandon this local plan despite pleas from:

• Communities across the district, not least the villages in the south and east of the county, that such an action would leave the whole area at risk of speculative housing developments.

• Our neighbouring Oxfordshire councils that we could lose the massive investment from government.

• Businesses and local public services whose employees struggle to find homes they can afford here.

The Government, seemingly concerned that the Lib-Dems and Greens risked making a decision that would be so damaging for the whole region, has been forced to step in.

On Wednesday last week, a day before the issue was due to be debated by the council, the Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick directed the council not to take any further step in connection with the adoption of the plan while he considered the matter.

We Conservative councillors on the council regret that the Secretary of State felt driven to take this action and we played no part in this intervention.

We are strong supporters and defenders of local democracy and were looking forward to a robust discussion at Thursday’s council meeting.

Dozens of residents came expecting to have their say. Many of them have spoken loudly against the draft local plan in the past but many of them — from the hitherto silent majority — were being driven to speak for the first time in favour of it. We were confident that, having heard them, enough of our fellow councillors would understand the danger of withdrawing the local plan at this stage and that, together with some colleagues from Henley Residents Group and the Labour Party, we would defeat the Lib-Dem/Green cabinet’s attempt to do so.

The fact that this was the first time the Government has felt the need to intervene in this way in the progress of a local development plan since 2004 underlines the seriousness of the situation.

We conclude that it only did so in this instance to defend the interests of the whole district and the rest of the county from the potential of an ill-judged, reckless decision by the Lib-Dem and Green councillors.

We hope that consideration of the local plan will be back on track soon and that residents and councillors alike will be given the opportunity to have their final say. — Yours faithfully,

Councillor Caroline Newton

On behalf of the Conservative group on South Oxfordshire District Council

Unsightly conservatory

Sir, — I have noticed that a planning application has been submitted to South Oxfordshire District Council for the construction of a glass conservatory and roof deck on a listed building at 23 Thames Side, Henley. (Application reference P19/S3019/HH).

I am appalled that such an unsightly addition could be contemplated for a Grade II listed building.

This house was built in the late 18th century and has been part of the iconic Henley landscape for nearly 250 years.

It is seen by all from the towpath, the river and the Berkshire side of the Thames.

One of the features of Georgian architecture is the symmetry, fine balance and proportion of the façade. This planning proposal destroys all of this.

During the day, the glass would reflect light and movement and at night it would light up like a goldfish bowl.

I encourage anyone who treasures our history and this landscape to make their feelings known to the district council by visiting its website and registering their objection. — Yours faithfully,

Sheila Newlng Ward

Northfield End, Henley

Dark forces at work

Editor, — I can’t believe the narrowmindedness and lack of vision from Wokingham Borough Council regarding the lights on Henley Bridge.

More than 2,000 people signed a petition in favour of the lights — people who actually live in the area.

But yet again the will of the people is ignored. Sounds familiar.

And Gillian Ovey, who said she doesn’t want the bridge to emulate Blackpool, shows the kind of mindset that these people have.

The bridge looks amazing at night, just like Albert Bridge in London and all the other bridges along the River Thames.

I guess that some people just don’t have imagination and all they can do is bang on about the significance of the Grade I listed bridge. Yes, we all know its old but Big Ben is old and that’s lit up like a Christmas tree, so what’s your point?

Taking these lights down is wrong. How can the opinion of people who make comments like “emulate Blackpool” and “There is no need to light the bridge” be a valid argument to get their own way?

I believe that the lights went out in the lives of the people who made this decision and that’s why they want to take the lights out of our lives. Dark forces at work. — Yours faithfully,

Curtis Jackson

Rotherfield Road, Henley

Lights will be missed

I would like to thank Clive Hemsley for the bridge lighting, which was great.

It added beautiful reflections and atmosphere to the river. When the winter sets in we are going to miss this.

To Wokingham Borough Council and Historic England and the Henley Archaeological & Historical Group, I would say the bridge has stood the test of time well and so would the lights.

Just look at all the illuminated bridges around the world — why can’t Henley have one too?

Many thanks again, Clive. Those lights will be greaty missed. — Yours faithfully,

Lewis Every.

Swiss Farm, Henley

New bridge is necessity

I must reply to your article about the proposed third Thames bridge (Standard, September 16).

I really do think that Oxfordshire County Council, and Councillor David Bartholomew in particular, should get their heads out of the sand and try to move forward in attempting to solve the problems we have with traffic trying to cross the river from Oxfordshire to Berkshire and back.

It is not one-way traffic, it works both ways.

Cllr Bartholomew seems happy enough to say that it’s Berkshire’s problem alone.

He should go to Sonning at peak times to see the total gridlock every day through the village and over a very old bridge that was built before cars were invented.

I have decided to call the proposed bridge the “Sonning bypass”.

New roads are being built all the time to relieve congestion hot spots and improve air quality.

We have to accept that traffic exists and that it will increase with the population so we should attempt to keep it moving rather than let if stagnate at local pinchpoints.

Finally, I recently learnt that there was a proposed crossing before the Second World War.

Some foundations were actually installed and were apparently bombed during the war. — Yours faithfully,

A Toogood

Brook Street, Twyford

This panto is priceless

Sir, — With regard to the possible change of dates for the Henley Children’s Theatre group’s pantomime at the Kenton Theatre, I feel it would be an enormous blow were they to lose their slot over the Christmas period.

The Christmas panto has been the highlight of their year and provides a wonderful opportunity for the children to perform together on a real stage and within the Christmas period.

A time slot in February would dilute the atmosphere and be impractical during term time.

The group is something that the Hurst family has nurtured for 50 years.

They have provided Henley’s children with a unique opportunity to sing and dance, grow in confidence, dress up and thrive in an atmosphere of gentle discipline and without any pressure, culminating in the thrill of a performance.

It is a priceless asset and to change their time slot would rob them and Henley of a wonderful Christmas tradition. — Yours faithfully,

Caroline Tonder

Dunsden

Compromise required

Sir, — I have read with interest the correspondence regarding the Henley Children Theatre’s pantomime.

While I have sympathy for both parties in this tricky dispute, I do think the rhetoric aimed at the Kenton Theatre trustees has been particularly harsh.

Reading last week’s letters page, you would be forgiven for thinking the Kenton was managed by a faceless multi-national rather than a dedicated team of trustees who give their time and expertise for no financial reward.

Over the past few years the Kenton has gone from being a theatre run by amateurs for amateurs to a professionally run venue offering a wide range of events for all the people of Henley.

This is, of course, due to the team of volunteers who support the theatre but ultimately the trustees who have the responsibility to make the theatre a going concern. This will sometimes involve difficult decisions.

Quite why the Henley Children’s Theatre discussions have been played out so publicly I don’t know, but let’s hope a compromise can be reached which addresses the sustainability of the theatre and its professional panto as well as the wishes of the Hurst family. — Yours faithfully,

Simon Clarke

Goodleigh, Devon

In defence of theatre

Sir, — As one of the Kenton Theatrte’s 80 + volunteers, I am responding in a personal capacity to what I consider to be unbalanced coverage in last week’s Henley Standard on the subject of Christmas pantomimes.

The Kenton Theatre, which opened in 1805, is a not-for-profit entity owned by the community and operating without public subsidy other than occasional contributions.

Our paid staffing is a full-time manager plus limited part-time support for some admin, technical, cleaning and box office duties.

Volunteers take care of other tasks, especially the bar, coffee bar, front of house management, ushering and much of the box office.

We stage more than 180 performances per year.

The Kenton’s own professional pantomime has had great success and is experiencing growing demand for seats year-by-year. This contributes a substantial portion of annual income to cover year-round operating costs and maintenance of the elderly building.

The growing demand for seats requires a gradual increase in the number of panto performances needed each year.

Muffin Hurst’s Henley Children’s Theatre is a long-term Kenton hirer which does excellent work but is, I believe, a for-profit organisation.

Surely it has the choice between whatever dates the Kenton can offer and an alternative venue, possibly with a lower seating capacity?

The three correspondents opposing changes to the availability dates for Henley Children’s Theatre 2021 pantomime all appeared to be written by family and friends. — Yours faithfully,

Derek Gilbert

Lower Assendon

Painting on point

Sir, — Rumour has it that the Banksy painting Devolved Parliament has been exported and now hangs as a trophy in the office of the EU Commissioner in Brussels.

Surely this unique national treasure should have been purchased by our nation and hung in the members’ bar of the House of Commons, where it might feel more at home. — Yours faithfully,

Dirk Jones

Kennylands Road, Sonning Common

Cowboy country...

Sir, — I can’t quite understand why the term “Eton Cowboy” keeps surfacing amid the current political fracas. — Yours faithfully,

Jim Munro

Blandy Road, Henley

Collaboration cafe anyone?

Sir, — Could a branch of “collaboration café” be set up in Henley? It was mentioned in Creating a World Without Poverty by Muhammad Yunus, who won a Nobel Peace Prize with his Grameen Bank. — Yours faithfully,

Neil Parsley

Mount View, Henley

Thoughtful shooters

Sir, — I read your story about the walkers and the shooting party (Standard, October 11) and was surprised and disappointed to learn that the former felt unsafe.

Every shoot that I have attended has been fastidiously managed and I have witnessed in-depth liaison involving walkie-talkies to ensure maximum safety for all concerned.

I do feel that highlighting the significant countryside management that is involved in running a shoot is all too often missed.

The estate managers, gamekeepers et al do much to manage our beautiful countryside for all to enjoy. — Yours faithfully,

Amanda Stewart

Woodcote

Many more local heroes

Sir, — I agree with South Oxfordshire District Council that naming any roads in new developments is its responsibility.

There are many residents of Sonning Common who have contributed much to their community over the years. Some of these people are quite old now and others are still very active but they quietly continue with their good works without awards or publicity.

I feel it is very direspectful to these people to select just the few names to add to the parish council’s wish list of road names, while omitting to mention those unsung community workers. — Yours faithfully,

John Williams

Sonning Common

Thanks for the welcome

Sir, — Anyone who visited the Henley Literary Festival will, I am sure, have been deeply impressed by the breadth and quality of the events on offer and the great atmosphere throughout the town.

This was the second year that the London Library has partnered with the festival and we were delighted with the welcome Henley gave us at our events.

From “in conversation” evenings with our president Tim Rice and vice-president Antonia Fraser to talks with library members and supporters, including Victoria Hislop, Giles Milton, Clare Mulley, Sonia Purnell and Travis Elborough, we were received by exceptionally enthusiastic and knowledgeable audiences.

Coming to Henley also enabled us to let festival goers find out how they can make use of the London Library, a unique literary centre with one million books, an extraordinary history and a membership that is open to all.

Thank you, Henley and the festival organisers, for an outstandingly well-run and imaginative 10 days.

The festival is rightly established as one of the South’s leading literary events and we’re proud to have been involved and, like thousands of festival visitors, we had a lot of fun in the process. — Yours faithfully,

Philip Marshall

Director, the London Library

Ode to the ‘family cat’

Sir, — Perhaps this may be of use? It’s a nod to National Poetry Day last week and is about the Henley Literary Festival and in particular Christian the Lion at Christ Church.

The evening began with a big cat roar.

To introduce a cub, bought from a very famous store.

John and Ace named him Christian and took him home to their Chelsea flat.

It was the Swinging Sixties so nothing wrong with that.

Derek joined this family bond, taking lots of pics.

My favourite — one of our hero eyeballing a table of day-old chicks.

The boys joined in the exercise, football, in a church’s ground.

The footballs didn’t last long, teeth and claws make a tearing sound.

Time, with the help of many friends, for Christian to relocate to Africa’s wild land.

Rehabilitation and destiny’s helping hand.

With George Adamson and his lions, Christian found a home, a mate, a pride.

Years passed, he was reunited with his human “family”.

Paws were put around their necks and heads were rubbed from side to side.

To finish, we heard the legacy of conservation and education.

The wild cats protected in the national parks of this great nation.

Throughout, we saw a nugget of love that has surely played a part in this amazing story, with a lion at its heart.

Thank you for your kind attention. — Yours faithfully,

G M Radley

Vicarage Road, Henley

Word open to interpretation

Sir, — In her Thought for the Week (Standard, October 11), Rev Sheila Walker was right when she argued that words are liable to serious misuse, particularly at the present time.

She very honestly suggests that even the words attributed to Jesus are open to question or misinterpretation.

However, her case falls apart when she says “but you can’t argue with a life lived in an utterly true and redemptive way, can you?” Yes, we can. The only evidence we have for the life of Christ is in words written about 40 years after his death, based upon earlier oral traditions.

These words are open to a great deal of argument, within and outside the church, and have been ever since they were written. — Yours faithfully,

Douglas Kedge

Lea Road, Sonning Common

Friendship guaranteed

Editor, — We recently ran some research with YouGov which showed that a fifth of over-55s in Great Britain go for at least six months without being socially active.

We were saddened to discover this because we firmly believe that enjoying the regular company of friends is essential to living a happier life.

Friends are not just there to socialise with, they provide support and comfort in times of need.

If any of your readers are looking to meet other friendly and caring people who live nearby, then we’d love to offer a warm welcome at our friendship group.

We have our own hall in Reading and also run regular social events across the region, including in Woodley, Pangbourne and Henley.

To receive a copy of our upcoming events diary, or to find out more about us, then please just give me a call on 0118 957 3354, or email readingdistrict@oddfellows.co.uk — Yours faithfully,

Debbie Jex

District secretary, Reading District Oddfellows

Singing is good for you

Sir, — Singing is known to benefit health and wellbeing, so why not give it a try?

You would be most welcome to join a friendly group who sing regularly at All Saints’ Church, Peppard. Tuition is free.

The choir is affiliated to the Royal Schools of Church Music and there is an opportunity to sing at some significant venues, including the Oxford Colleges and Christ Church Cathedral — often followed by a delicious tea.

With the festive season ahead, some particularly wonderful traditional music may whet your appetite.

David, our director of music, or Rebecca, our junior choirmistress, would like to hear from you and can be contacted on 0118 972 4065 or 0118 972 2967 respectively.

Both juniors and seniors rehearse early on a Thursday evening and we would love you to join us — Yours faithfully,

Jenny Wingrove

Peppard Common

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